photo from huffingtonpost.com
A few years ago, I overheard a conversation among high school teachers at a nationwide education conference. To my great surprise, they agreed that “competition saps motivation.” Nothing could be farther from the truth.
In my experience, once I graduated from lawn mowing and snow shoveling as a child, I took on a myriad of odd jobs through high school, college, and into my twenties. Gift wrapping school uniforms with Mrs. K breathing down my neck is near the top of the bad job list. The worst has to be scooping out the contents of cesspools, pouring the contents into garbage cans, and delivering the mess to the appropriate dump. That was indeed a crappy job.
There were many others. I sold men’s cologne and paperback books, drove a forklift for twelve hours a day, and stacked boxes of books onto trucks by hand. I worked the night shift in an aluminum can factory. Factory work is terrific. I really enjoyed standing on an assembly line putting the left rear wheels on toy trucks moving along a conveyor belt for my entire summer vacation one year.
Picking up litter is particularly memorable. I worked at a swimming pool and beach, but I was too young to be a life guard. Picking up garbage from the sand is little fun. Eventually, I did become a life guard, but it was not about looking for girls. I actually had to work. It involved training and SCUBA lessons. When I was on duty, there was no time for lining up dates. Off duty, I had to work the concession stand, selling hot dogs and burgers until I was back on the chair. It was not glorious. In three years, I accomplished little more than blowing my whistle. I do remember my last day on the job. I sat on the chair for the last time, and then hit the concession stand to help with the lunchtime crowd. Someone put out a grease fire in the kitchen, so I walked outside to escape the smoke and get some fresh air. As I meandered past the pool in my cooking smock, a little child who could not swim fell in the deep end. I reached in and pulled him out without even getting my smock wet. It was my only save, with little glory and even less pay.
I could rattle off about thirty other boring, thankless jobs, as I am sure you can. However, here is the point. All the crappy jobs I had as I began my journey through life constituted blessings. As I grew older, I knew exactly what I never wanted to do for the rest of my life. I was motivated to pursue any path that would lead me to a world where I could love my employment situation and be rewarded at the same time.
I definitely enjoy writing and teaching, and I cannot even envision retiring someday. But in a national atmosphere of entitlement, I am not sure young people today are willing to seek out the crappiest of jobs. We climb ladders from the bottom to the top, not vice versa. That is an easy lesson to learn. Yet, work ethic appears to have disappeared in America.
Now, I realize that broad generalizations can produce fallacious results. However, it sure does feel like devotion to lousy jobs in hopes of getting experience and building a reputation in order to achieve economic security in the future is a concept of the past. The idea has been thwarted by the rhetoric of politicians who are the modern-day task masters of an entire dependent generation. They simply do not realize climbing the ladder is the American Dream.
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